The UK new car market grew for the eighth consecutive month in March, according to new figures published this week. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed new car registrations were up by almost a fifth last month, buoyed by the arrival of the new ‘23’ registration plate.

According to the figures, a total of 287,825 new cars were delivered in March – an increase of 18.2 percent compared with the same month last year. It’s a solid performance for what is normally a crucial month for the industry, thanks to the arrival of the new number plate on March 1.

This year, the ‘23’ registration plate attracted buyers from all over the market, with private sales up 1.4 percent and small fleet sales up by 26 percent. However, bigger fleet sales make up almost half the market, and deliveries to businesses with such large fleets grew by 40.9 percent.

Customer shaking hands with dealership salesman

As usual, petrol-powered vehicles made up the majority of all new car sales, accounting for more than 162,000 (56.3 percent) of the 287,000 new cars registered. However, with diesels accounting for less than 10 percent of the market in March, electric cars continue to grow in popularity.

Last month, more than 46,000 new electric vehicles were registered, up 18.6 percent on the same month in 2022. Sales of hybrid vehicles were up, too, with plug-in hybrid registrations rising by 11.8 percent and conventional ‘self-charging’ hybrid registrations up by 34.3 percent.

Customer and salesman are standing in dealer showroom

As a result, the first three months of the year have now seen almost half a million cars registered – up 18.4 percent on the same three months of 2022. However, despite the evident growth, the market remains well below pre-pandemic levels, with registrations for the first quarter down by 29.5 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

“March’s new plate month usually sets the tone for the year so this performance will give the industry and consumers greater confidence,” said the SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes. “With eight consecutive months of growth, the automotive industry is recovering, bucking wider trends and supporting economic growth. The best month ever for zero-emission vehicles is reflective of increased consumer choice and improved availability but if electric vehicle market ambitions – and regulation – are to be met, infrastructure investment must catch up.”